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During difficult and stressful times such as an economic downturn or recession, it can be a challenge to stay motivated at work. A good leader naturally knows how to motivate employees when things are going well for the company. But when things aren't going so well, how can executives and other leaders in the organization motivate their team members?


We recently asked our leading executives how they think leaders can motivate employees during an economic downturn.

Here are their responses...

Ana Smith, Talent Architect & Global Learning Strategist

As complex world events have unfolded more than we've experienced before, it’s understandable that your team’s minds are elsewhere. In uncertain and highly charged times, stress is a normal human reaction.

In addition to getting the work done, balancing compassion and empathy requires attention and skill, and care. As a leader, taking time to understand your own emotions is fundamental to getting started. If you acknowledge and manage any stress and anxiety you feel yourself, model self-care, and ask people what they need, you're off to a great start.

Showing empathy, you want to connect with everyone in your team to truly understand what they think and feel, even if you don’t agree or feel the same thing.

Normalizing stress.

People managers can create a sense of relatedness, competence, and autonomy to help motivate their team(s) in uncertainty.

Ana Smith helps people & organizations achieve their full talent potential by developing and co-creating people strategies and customized solutions, and turning them into impactful outcomes and collaborative relationships, using coaching as the "red thread."

Jim Black, Engineering & Technical Executive

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Motivating employees during an economic downturn is never easy. Short-term evidence usually contradicts your optimism.

When I have needed to inspire my team during slow periods of work, I focus on what we can prepare for the return. What can we do now that will make us better?

Consider this analogy…

You are running a fine-tuned race car, and it has logged dozens of laps. The car is running well, and you are making great lap times. The race stops, and you can work on your car during the stoppage. Do you simply sit back and start again when the green flag drops? No—you change the oil, fine-tune the timing, replace broken parts, and make the car even stronger than before.

Economic downturns are similar. Take the time to refine the process, improve workflow, and make yourself stronger for the return. Provided the company is fiscally responsible and does not need to lay off employees, motivate them with the opportunity to improve for the next phase.

Jim Black is an engineering professional focused on the development of technical professionals. He is also a professional bass player.

Carla Biasi, Personal Stylist

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Motivating employees should be a continual process in any organization.

Certainly, in a down economy, it's even more important to keep employees pushing forward and staying positive.

I believe one of the most important ways to do it is through communication. When the economy takes a hit, people are concerned about their jobs. They wonder how the company will handle these rough times. Leaders should talk to their employees about the measures the company is taking to weather through it. It means so much, and employees will feel more secure and appreciated when this happens. Therefore, they'll be motivated to stay with the team.

Recent studies show that the younger generation ranks transparency as one of the highest traits they look for in management. It fosters inclusivity and employees feel respected which counts for a lot.

Carla Biasi is a personal stylist living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She currently has her own business and works part-time at an upscale women's boutique and as a virtual and kit stylist for a women’s specialty brand.

Andrea Markowski, Marketing Executive

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Let’s get one thing straight. You cannot motivate anyone to do anything.

Ok, I lied. Usually, if the job is undesirable, boring, or made up of low-skilled repetitive tasks, the best motivator is—you guessed it—money.

However, for higher-skilled jobs that require smart decision making and a degree of autonomy, as a manager, you simply are never going to be the source of an employee’s motivation. It has to come from within the employee themselves.

An excellent resource is Drive by Daniel Pink. This book looks at the science behind motivation. After reading it, one bit that stuck with me is how any type of progress made can motivate someone to keep on keepin’ on.

With this reasoning, you might celebrate both big and small wins of the organization as a whole, right down to an individual’s contribution. An employee must feel that they added to the progress in some way to generate their own intrinsic motivation.

Andrea Markowski is a marketing director with specializations in strategy development, digital tactics, design thinking, and creative direction. She has superpowers in presentations and public speaking.

Lisa Perry, Global Marketing Executive

Employees celebrate, high five, and motivate each other at work

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When organizations are in the midst of an economic downturn, keeping employees motivated becomes more challenging. The focus is to tighten budgets, implement hiring freezes, reduce salaries and workforces, and even layoffs, furloughs, to selling assets.

Here are eight strategies to keep your employees inspired and engaged:

  1. Stop Gossip: Rumors can run rampant about layoffs, pay cuts, and more if you don’t stop it as quickly as possible.
  2. Listen: Practice active listening skills: understanding, enjoyment, learning, and giving advice, or solace.
  3. Be Consistent: There should be a consistent approach to decision making. The organization should have confidence that decisions made and changed are for the right reasons.
  4. Provide a Sense of Certainty: In times of uncertainty, be transparent, keep people informed, and be as truthful as you can.
  5. Have Integrity: Many things become possible throughout an organization when people trust each other to do what they say they’re going to do.
  6. Understand What Motivates Your Staff: Once you understand what drives and motivates your staff, it’s easier to give them the opportunities to thrive.
  7. Give Staff a Voice: Create an environment in which employees feel safe to express their ideas and feedback as well as give them opportunities to have an impact.
  8. Power of a Thank You: Don’t underestimate the power of saying thank you for a job well done. A note, a personal outreach, or a public affirmation can make a huge impact on the person receiving it.

How do you think executives can motivate their employees during an economic downturn? Join the conversation inside Work It Daily's Executive Program.

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